Few could argue that Apple CEO Tim Cook is doing a decent job at the helm of a company that almost has a license to print money right now, but there are plenty of insights that we could learn from how he runs Apple and how he differs to the approach taken by Steve Jobs. That’s all covered in a new Wall Street Journal report into Cook and the way he conducts business.
Notably, the report points out that Cook follows a similar routine to the one he did before taking over from Jobs in 2011. All at the behest of Jobs himself.
From when he took over in 2011, Mr. Cook followed the advice of his predecessor: Don’t ask what I would do. Do what’s right. He continued waking up each morning before 4 a.m. and reviewing global sales data. He maintained his Friday meeting with operations and finance staff, which team members called “date night with Tim” because they stretched hours into the evening. He seldom visited Apple’s design studio, a place Mr. Jobs visited almost daily.
One thing that shines through is Cook’s attention to detail and his demand that all around him behave the same way. Former Apple exec Joe O’Sullivan offered up this tidbit that gets the point across perfectly. Cook sweats the details.
Mr. Cook’s command of detail causes underlings to enter meetings with trepidation. He leads through interrogation, with a precision that has reshaped how Apple staff work and think.
“The first question is: ‘Joe, how many units did we produce today?’ ‘It was 10,000.’ ‘What was the yield?’ ‘98%.’ You can answer those and then he’d say, ‘Ok, so 98%, explain how the 2% failed?’ You’d think, ‘F—, I don’t know.’ It drives a level of detail so everyone becomes Cook-like,” said Joe O’Sullivan, a former Apple operations executive. He said Mr. Cook’s first meeting with staff the day he arrived in 1998 lasted 11 hours.
While the 11-hour meeting sounds like folklore more than anything remotely accurate, the point still stands – the chance that Cook could ask a question nobody knows the answer to has changed how Apple works. Nobody wants to be caught out.
Middle managers today screen staff before meetings with Mr. Cook to make sure they’re knowledgeable. First-timers are advised not to speak. “It’s about protecting your team and protecting him. You don’t waste his time,” said a longtime lieutenant. If he senses someone is insufficiently prepared, he loses patience and says, “Next,” as he flips a page of the meeting agenda, this person said, adding, “people have left crying.”
Whether that’s a good thing for Cook’s teams is a matter for debate, but it’s difficult to argue with the results. After all, we’ve heard plenty of anecdotes that involved Jobs pushing an employee to tears before.
The full Wall Street Journal piece is well worth a read if you’re at all interested in how one of the planet’s most successful CEOs does things.
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